I once drove fifty miles to have a hard conversation with a remote staff person. I had received a report from another employee that suggested he was misrepresenting our company, and I was concerned for our reputation. I felt nudged to offer an opinion that might change his choices.
In 1 Samuel 25, an unlikely person took great personal risk to confront a future king of Israel who was about to make a disastrous choice. Abigail was married to Nabal, whose character matched the meaning of his name (“fool”) (vv. 3, 25). Nabal had refused to pay David and his troops the customary wage for protecting his livestock (vv.10–11). Hearing that David planned a murderous revenge on her household, and knowing her foolish husband wouldn’t listen to reason, Abigail prepared a peace offering, rode to meet David, and persuaded him to reconsider (vv. 18–31).
How did Abigail accomplish this? After sending ahead donkeys loaded with food to satisfy David and his men and settle the debt, she spoke truth to David. She wisely reminded David of God’s call on his life. If he resisted his desire for revenge, when God made him king, he wouldn’t “have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed” (vv. 30–31).
You might also know someone dangerously close to a mistake that could harm others and compromise their own future effectiveness for God. Like Abigail, might God be calling you to a hard conversation?
I remember hearing my dad talk about how difficult it was to walk away from unending arguments over differing interpretations of the Bible. By contrast he recalled how good it was when both sides agreed to disagree.
But is it really possible to set aside irreconcilable differences when so much seems to be at stake? That’s one of the questions the apostle Paul answers in his New Testament letter to the Romans. Writing to readers caught in social, political, and religious conflict, he suggests ways of finding common ground even under the most polarized conditions (14:5–6).
According to Paul the way to agree to disagree is to recall that each of us will answer to the Lord not only for our opinions but also for how we treat one another in our differences (v. 10).
Conditions of conflict can actually become occasions to remember that there are some things more important than our own ideas—even our interpretations of the Bible. All of us will answer for whether we have loved one another, and even our enemies, as Christ loved us.
Now that I think of it, I remember that my dad used to talk about how good it is not just to agree to disagree but to do so with mutual love and respect.
“You need to listen to me, I’m your brother!” The plea came from a concerned older brother in my neighborhood and was directed to a younger sibling who was moving farther away and faster than the older child was comfortable with. Clearly the older child was better able to judge what was best in the situation.
How many of us have resisted the wise counsel of a brother or sister? If you have had to face the consequences of resisting the good advice of someone more mature, you are not alone.
One of the greatest resources we can have as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ is a family—those who are spiritually related because of a common faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. This family includes mature men and women who love the Lord and each other. Like the little brother in my neighborhood, we sometimes need a word of caution or correction to get us back on track. This is particularly true when we offend someone or someone offends us. Doing what’s right can be difficult. Yet Jesus’s words in Matthew 18:15–20 show us what to do when offenses happen within our spiritual family.
Thankfully, our gracious heavenly Father places in our lives people who are prepared to help us honor the Lord and others. And when we listen, things go better in the family (vv. 15–16).
I work with a team to put on an annual community event. We spend eleven months plotting many details to ensure the event’s success. We choose the date and venue. We set ticket prices. We select everything from food vendors to sound technicians. As the event approaches, we answer public questions and provide directions. Afterward we collect feedback. Some good. Some that is hard to hearand more details are available to the public, our team hears excitement from attendees and also fields complaints. The negative feedback complaints can be is discouraging and sometimes tempts us to give up.
Nehemiah had critics too as he led a team to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. They actually mocked Nehemiah and those working alongside him saying, “Even a fox climbing up on it would break down [your] wall of stones” (Nehemiah 4:3). His response to the critics helps me handle my own: Instead of feeling dejected or trying to refute their comments, he turned to God for help. Instead of responding directly, he asked God to hear the way His people were being treated and to defend them (v. 4). After entrusting those concerns to God, he and his co-laborers continued to work steadily on the wall “with all their heart” (v. 6).
We can learn from Nehemiah not to be distracted by criticism of our work. When we’re criticized or mocked, instead of responding to our critics out of hurt or anger, we can prayerfully ask God to defend us from discouragement so we can continue with a whole heart.
Charles Lowery complained to his friend about lower back pain. He was seeking a sympathetic ear, but what he got was an honest assessment. His friend told him, “I don’t think your back pain is your problem; it’s your stomach. Your stomach is so big it’s pulling on your back.”
In his column for REV! Magazine, Charles shared that he resisted the temptation to be offended. He lost the weight and his back problem went away. Charles recognized that “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted” (Prov. 27:5–6).
The trouble is that so often we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism, for truth hurts. It bruises our ego, makes us uncomfortable, and calls for change.
True friends don’t find pleasure in hurting us. Rather, they love us too much to deceive us. They are people who, with loving courage, point out what we may already know but find hard to truly accept and live by. They tell us not only what we like to hear but also what we need to hear.
Solomon honored such friendship with proverbs. Jesus went further—He endured the wounds of our rejection not only to tell us the truth about ourselves but to show us how much we are loved.
Where I come from in northern Ghana, bush fires are regular occurrences in the dry season between December and March. I’ve witnessed many acres of farmland set ablaze when the winds carried tiny embers from fireplaces or from cigarette butts carelessly thrown by the roadside. With the dry grassland vegetation, all that is needed to start a devastating fire is a little spark.
That is how James describes the tongue, calling it “a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6 niv). A false statement made here or backbiting there, a vicious remark somewhere else, and relationships are destroyed. “The words of the reckless pierce like swords,” says Proverbs 12:18, “but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (niv). Just as fire has both destructive and useful elements, so “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (18:21).
For conversation that reflects God’s presence in us and pleases Him, let it “always be with grace” (Col. 4:6). When expressing our opinions during disagreements, let’s ask God to help us choose wholesome language that brings honor to Him.
On July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia in response to the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie. Within 90 days, other European countries had taken sides to honor their military alliances and pursue their own ambitions. A single event escalated into World War I, one of the most destructive military conflicts of modern time.
My husband and I had recently moved into our house when a man dropped off a large box of strawberries on our front sidewalk. He left a note saying he wanted us to share them with our neighbors. He meant well, but some children discovered the box before any adults did and had a strawberry-throwing party at our white house. When we returned home, we saw children we knew watching us from behind a fence. They had “returned to the scene of the crime” to see how we would react to the mess. We could have just cleaned it up ourselves, but to restore our relationship, we felt it was important to talk with them and require their help in cleaning our strawberry-stained house.
King David was up against a familiar foe. Years before as a young shepherd boy, he had faced down Goliath, the top Philistine warrior, by killing him with a well-placed stone (1 Sam. 17). Now David was king of Israel, and here come the Philistines again! They heard he was king, and they decided to attack (2 Sam. 5:17).